"April was our only chance to ensure ICE would be able to run in 2022, which is our duty of care to
Following recent withdrawals of a number of exhibitors from ICE London 2022, Stuart Hunter, Managing Director of Clarion Gaming, the company organizing the event that will be held April 12-14 at ExCeL, spoke with Yogonet and expressed his respect and support to the "predominantly" land-based clients that have postponed their attendance until February 2023, given their current trading conditions and the new dateline not being ideal for their business. He said Clarion is currently focused on working with a selection of brands that wish to retain a presence at ICE London via sponsored experiences.
Hunter also noted that the Omicron variant spread situation in the UK continues to improve, government regulations on international travel effective February 11 have normalized travel into England, and ICE London has "significant support from major gaming industry brands." He cited feedback showing that the events are already running safely and effectively in venues across the UK and have generated a "hugely positive" response from buyers and sellers alike. April will see "the biggest and most dynamic gathering of the industry ironically since the previous edition of ICE," he told Yogonet.
Could you outline the process leading to April 12-14 as the chosen dates for ICE London? Which have been the main challenges Clarion Gaming had to overcome in order to have those dates confirmed at ExCeL London?
I would like to open by confirming that moving ICE London to April is very much a one-off and a last resort due to the absence of any alternative dates for an exhibition of this size and scale. When it became clear that the original February dates did not give the industry sufficient confidence in terms of concern regarding the Omicron variant we set in motion a reach-out programme to connect with our community of exhibitors, sponsors and attendee groups. Migrating events that are the size and scale of ICE and the co-located iGB Affiliate London represents an enormous challenge and we worked tirelessly through the Christmas period with our colleagues at ExCeL to identify and secure an alternative date. We only really had two potential solutions both sitting either side of the Easter break in April. Neither of them perfect solutions, but our only chance to ensure ICE would be able to run in 2022. ExCeL’s support was essential and involved the migration of six other events to enable ICE to have the entirety of ExCeL which is the space required to operate at full capacity. To illustrate the level of demand that exists for space at ExCeL the venue has confirmed that it will host a total of 350 live events during 2022. We appreciate that the new dates do not suit everyone and we will continue to work through any remaining challenges with our clients and support them with their preparations and planning for what is the world’s biggest and most influential gaming industry gathering.
You recently announced that a large number of industry decision-makers will be at ICE London – can you expand on that?
The news piece you are referring to – which puts the importance of ICE London into sharp focus – is based on a large-scale research initiative that we commissioned from independent market research agency Explori covering 1,211 industry professionals, 77% of whom were final decision makers or part of the final decision-making group. The results showed that close to three out of four industry professionals (74%) pre-registering for ICE confirmed that they intend to be part of the London experience when the exhibition returns to ExCeL London (April 12 - 14). It also underlined the importance attributed to the world’s largest business-to-business gambling exhibition. 81% of respondents saw ICE London as being either fairly or very important to attend with the main purpose being to acquire new suppliers and partners (67% of respondents), gain an overview of the market (56%) and to be inspired by new ideas (53%). The fact this research chimes with the responses to a survey undertaken by the European Casino Association of its members confirms the huge importance the international industry places on attending ICE London.
We have seen support from key industry stakeholders and associations. What role are trade bodies and ICE Ambassadors playing in this new situation?
We’ve received and continue to receive widespread support from influential organisations including the European Casino Association, the Gambling Business Group, EUROMAT and of course from our ICE Ambassadors, a collection of thought leaders who represent the interests and thinking of the industry. Organisations and bodies such as these serve as a great source of inspiration for the Clarion team and provide an invaluable sounding board.
Can you provide an update on Omicron and what visitors to London can expect?
Whilst the situation with regards to Covid has improved significantly in the UK – we remain totally committed to delivering safe and secure editions of ICE London and iGB Affiliate London. In terms of specific changes, at the end of January the UK Government moved to a new more relaxed response level which has involved a significant easing of Covid restrictions including the end of mandatory face masks and a relaxation of the rules applying to Covid Certification Passports and social distancing. In addition, from February 11th vaccinated international travellers will not have to test for Covid on arrival in England: this is a major development that will encourage more visitors to make the journey to London and be part of the ICE experience. I support the view of lead bodies such as UKHospitality and UKinbound that the lifting of restrictions represents a pragmatic step towards normality, they also show that the UK and ICE London are very much open for business. Clarion took a proactive and collaborative approach to Covid, contributing to the drafting and refinement of the widely adopted ‘All Secure Risk Assessment Framework’ a best-practice guide for events professionals delivering bio-secure events. Our protocols, which have been fully-tested, have the ability to deliver an ICE experience that will be both safe and business-friendly.
Land-based exhibitors including Novomatic, Merkur Gaming, Zitro and TCS John Huxley have announced that they will not be part of ICE London 2022 – how do you respond to this?
Our utmost respect, care and support goes out to our predominantly land-based clients that have postponed their attendance at ICE this year until February 2023, due to the current trading conditions and the new dateline not being ideal for their business. We respect their decision and are currently focussed on working with a selection of brands that wish to retain a presence at ICE London via some exciting sponsored experiences that we are working on. I would like to stress that they are postponing their attendance until next year for reasons surrounding the date, the market conditions post-pandemic and remaining concerns that they have surrounding Omicron. We view our customers as representing lifetime relationships – this is something that’s non-negotiable from our perspective. However, we have a responsibility and a duty of care to the entire gaming industry to deliver ICE London this year. Combined with our IGB Affiliate London event which co-locates with ICE, we will see over 600 gaming companies in attendance – by far the biggest business gaming event in the world. The road to ICE was always going to be a challenging one, made even more so due to the arrival of the Omicron variant. However, the conditions in the UK are much improved and we are excited to welcome the industry to London in April, which represents the only opportunity we have to deliver ICE this year. So we are grateful for the support of the wider industry and are focussed on ensuring their experience at ICE in just over two months is truly valuable and acts as a landmark opportunity to see colleagues, customers, regulators and for the global industry to reunite for the first time since February 2020. While the at show experience will be slightly different from 2020, ICE London 2022 remains the largest and most influential exhibition in world gaming. It is going to be something special!
How are other events in the UK faring?
Our trade body, the Association of Event Organisers (AEO), represents companies responsible for running 1,700 events a year, the majority (1,000) of which are held outside the UK – so they have a comprehensive view of the global industry. The message coming from the AEO is that UK exhibitions are safe, secure, open for business and providing a Covid secure welcome to visitors and exhibitors from throughout the world. Thanks to the success of the vaccination programme the UK is leading the world in terms of re-opening, and is very much open for business. UK event organisers continue to use the All Secure Guidelines, previously approved by government officials, which is a dynamic risk assessed approach to create safe environments for customers. Venue research conducted by the AEO indicates that customers feel safe and secure, and whilst not a mandatory requirement many initiatives such as improved ventilation, and enhanced cleaning regimes are now standard practice. Those planning to attend ICE London/iGB Affiliate London, should be encouraged and re-assured that shows are already running safely and effectively in venues across the UK and have generated a hugely positive response from buyers and sellers alike. The feedback from companies that have staged events this year is that whilst they are smaller than they were pre-pandemic there is huge pent-up demand from buyers and that exhibitors are doing fantastic business and re-booking for next year. The satisfaction scores and re-booking rates are in many cases higher than they were prior to March 2020.
How important are Events to the industry – does in-person still have a role?
The answer to this is absolutely yes. Our experience running iGB Live! and iGB Affiliate Amsterdam five months ago demonstrated quite how much the industry has missed the opportunity to meet face-to-face and the huge commercial value of being able to do so. All of the research we’ve undertaken, all of the anecdotal comments, all of the conversations that we are having confirm the power of in-person. Official events industry data confirm that nearly seven out of ten buyers (69%) will recommend brands that they have engaged with at events. There’s no doubt that the return of in-person represents a major opportunity for businesses and industries to bounce-back after a torrid two-years.
Some final words for those weighing up a visit to ICE London?
For a major international show such as ICE London, the return to in-person after a two-year absence was never going to be simple. However, whilst the dynamic of what visitors will experience at ICE London 2022 will be different, we will still have 450 world leading brands on the show floor plus the 160 at the co-located iGB Affiliate – making April the biggest and most dynamic gathering of the industry ironically since the previous edition of ICE. The Omicron situation in the UK continues to improve, government regulations on international travel, effective 11th February, have normalised travel into England and ICE London has significant support from major gaming industry brands and large swathes of the international industry. Add to this the access visitors will have to initiatives and features such as Pitch ICE, the International Casino Conference, World Regulatory Briefing, the ICE VOX conference programme, Consumer Protection Zone, our brand-new Hosted Meetings Programme and the most comprehensive demonstration and analysis of the Esports phenomenon, all of which contribute to the overall ICE London experience. It’s been too long since the industry has been able to meet face-to-face and we are looking forward to bringing everyone together to celebrate the return of the industry in a safe and a secure environment. In these respects, the UK and ICE London are very much open for business and we will do whatever it takes to deliver an unforgettable celebration when the industry meets in London in April.